Despite Meridia Heart Risk, Ingredient May Remain in Unregulated Drugs

Some experts are warning that a recent Meridia recall may not be enough to keep the potentially dangerous weight-loss drug away from consumers, as many unregulated dietary supplements appear to use sibutramine, the active ingredient for Meridia. 

On October 8, the same day the FDA issued a recall for Meridia, the agency also warned that sibutramine had been found in Slimming Beauty Bitter Orange Slimming Capsules, a dietary supplement that did not list sibutramine as an ingredient. The FDA recalled Meridia after determining that sibutramine raised the risk of heart attacks and strokes while providing little actual weight loss benefit.

The FDA became aware of Slimming Beauty after it was handed out during the 40th Annual Mexican Independence Day Parade in Chicago on September 12, sparking a number of reports of serious side effects, including vomiting, high blood pressure, headaches and insomnia. However, there are many unregulated dietary supplements on the market that have not been investigated by FDA. According to a Wall Street Journal blog post, other dietary supplements like Slimming Beauty may also contain unlisted subutramine and other pharmaceutical ingredients that require FDA approval, but advertise themselves as being 100% herbal.

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In August, the herbal weight loss supplement Solo Slim was also found to contain sibutramine. Any dietary supplements found to contain regulated drugs lose their immunity from regulation. In addition, the FDA can require than any future products by that company meet with FDA approval first.

Herbal supplements that do not claim to cure a disease can be sold without FDA approval, but they must not contain any active pharmaceutical ingredients that are regulated by the federal government. Even though the FDA regularly busts supplements that break this rule, it only becomes involved after reports of problems. Sibutramine is a popular illegal ingredient for weight loss supplements that claim to be herbal.

Getting illegal and dangerous dietary supplements out of stores can be difficult, since they often are sold in countless small shops and by low-volume vendors across the country. Even supplements that the FDA has pulled from shelves in the U.S. can frequently be ordered from overseas through online pharmacies.

The FDA has a list of supplements that have undeclared ingredients, which was last expanded in 2009. A number of physicians who are part of the Cambridge Health Alliance have begun a consumer survey to find out what effect being on that list has on the actual use of those supplements.

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